Why Ed Miliband needs Habonim Dror

As we enter the party conference season, thoughts inevitably turn to political leadership. These are not good times for the men who head up our major parties. David Cameron’s attempt to build a national consensus over intervention in Syria was scuppered by Parliament; Nick Clegg faces the prospect of outright electoral oblivion, while Ed Miliband is in open conflict with the trade unions which put him in place as leader.

Conference speeches are always billed as “make or break”, but with an election less than two years away, these speeches will set the tone of the campaign ahead. By this time next year a single speech will make little difference.

For Mr Cameron, if fragile growth continues, the message will be “steady-as-she goes” and “don’t trust Labour with the economy”. Mr Clegg’s personal fate was hitched to that of his Conservative partners from the moment he sealed the Coalition deal.

Mr Miliband is a case apart because doubts over his capacity to lead the country are likely to dog him until 2015.

I often wonder how different the political landscape would have been if the Milibands had been members of a Jewish youth movement.

The seed of this thought was sown by Mr Miliband himself, who has often mentioned his regret at his lack of a more traditional Jewish upbringing. Just after taking over as Labour leader he told me in an interview for the JC: “I sometimes hanker after what [my parents] had, which was not just a political community but a recognisably Jewish community — people who had been on Jewish youth groups and probably had more fun than I did when I was growing up”.

Whether or not Ed Miliband should have had more fun when he was growing up, I’m sure he would have benefitted from a spell with Habonim Dror (the obvious place for a good socialist Zionist like him).

For many outside the Jewish community, organisations which base their philosophy on mutual aid, self-reliance and discipline can seem quaint and old-fashioned. But Jewish youth movements of every stripe have the ability to turn out a stream of capable and mature young adults prepared to take on leadership roles.

It is too late for Mr Miliband now. But he would do well to act on his regrets and make a close study of those youth movements. It may even provide him with some badly-needed ideas.

How about an extension of the National Citizenship Service scheme — designed to promote life skills — among teenagers, using the model of Jewish youth movements? If nothing else, it would be a fitting policy for the Labour Party’s first Jewish leader.

Last updated: 1:47pm, September 13 2013